Efficiency, crude exports are sticking points as House prepares for July floor debate

By Geof Koss | 06/26/2015 07:21 AM EDT

House negotiators are closing in on a broad energy package that may be ready for floor action in the coming weeks, a key lawmaker said yesterday.

House negotiators are closing in on a broad energy package that may be ready for floor action in the coming weeks, a key lawmaker said yesterday.

Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) said staff is working to finalize the bill’s various titles, while discussions continue over outstanding efficiency disputes and whether to include a repeal of the ban on crude oil exports.

"I think we’ll have that on the floor for a vote before the August break," he told E&E Daily in an interview yesterday.


Based on the "Architecture of Abundance" framework by Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the measure aims to expand energy supplies, boost related infrastructure, promote efficiency and overhaul existing energy programs.

Unlike his controversial bill (H.R. 2042) to allow states to opt out of U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which passed the House this week on a 247-180 vote, Whitfield said the "big" energy package largely avoids major hot-button energy fights.

"The contentious areas are really not that big, truthfully," he said.

Nonetheless, Whitfield said two sticking points remain in the efficiency title. The first deals with a long-standing dispute over a provision from a 2007 energy law that would require a phaseout of fossil fuel energy from new and majorly renovated federal buildings by 2030.

"We’re going to try to eliminate that" to maintain the option of future use of fossil fuel energy, Whitfield said.

A committee draft bill that would outright repeal the provision — which Whitfield noted was authored by former Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) — has hit a nerve with the panel’s minority. "The Democrats are flipping out over that," Whitfield said.

A broad coalition of interest groups yesterday penned a letter urging House members to back a compromise provision, contained in a bipartisan House efficiency bill (H.R. 2177), sponsored by Reps. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), that would pair a repeal with stronger future efficiency targets. That bill is based on a compromise hashed out by Sens. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) that has strong backing among stakeholders.

A second bone of contention is the Energy Department’s recent proposal to raise efficiency standards for certain gas-fired furnaces, which has sparked pushback from the American Gas Association and other groups that question the economic and technical justifications the department used. A variety of stakeholders have been engaged in tough negotiations to reach a compromise position on the rule (E&E Daily, June 2).

Whitfield said he hopes a compromise can be reached with Democrats on areas of disagreement but suggested the majority isn’t going to sit on the bill forever awaiting a deal.

"There are, like, 5 percent of the whole bill that are controversial, and we don’t intend to give them everything that they want," he said. "So we’ll see what happens."

Another wild card remains whether to address the decades-old ban on exporting crude oil from the United States, said Whitfield, who cited a flurry of recent analyses he said shows that the effect of doing so would be "beneficial."

He noted the opposition of some refiners to repealing the ban but said he’s seen a groundswell of support for it in recent months.

"It’s kind of amazing, but there doesn’t seem to be that big organized opposition that I thought," he said.

Senate deliberations

In the Senate, Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) conceded yesterday that her committee has a ways to go before its bill could be ready by her goal of a pre-August-recess markup.

"We’re not quite there yet," she said in an interview. "People have really been working hard to get through some of these issues, and you start with the things that are just a little bit easier and say, ‘You can put them aside, and we can move on this.’ But as you get to those issues where there’s more divergency in the positions, it’s just going to take a little bit longer time. So I can’t say that what we’re going to have is a 95 percent consensus, because I just don’t know at this point."

However, she signaled her upcoming bill will hew to the Hoeven-Manchin compromise on the 2007 phaseout of fossil fuel use in federal buildings. "I think we’re pretty good with our efficiency" title, she said.

Murkowski also acknowledged the intense debate over DOE’s furnace rule but said the extensive time the committee has put into energy efficiency negotiations in recent years should yield a deal.

"I think it’s workable," she said. "I only say that because if we can work through some of these other efficiency things that we have done so in a way that works, I figure we can do that with furnaces, too."

Murkowski said she continues to deliberate how the crude exports ban — a top priority for her — fits into the committee’s bill, which she plans to move with as much Democratic support as she can muster. But adding a repeal would likely cost her Democratic support in committee and on the floor.

That’s almost certain to be a topic of discussion when she and ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) sit down after the July 4 recess to sort out the shape of the bill.

Murkowski also reiterated that she’d like to see the energy bill be accompanied by a tax title, which she said could house a bill she co-sponsored with Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) that would extend master limited partnership tax treatment to renewable energy projects (EnergyWire, June 25).

"It’s only natural, if we’re going to get something that really does work to help advance policy, you have to view what happens on the tax side through those initiatives that impact these policies," she said, adding that as a Finance Committee member, it’s Cantwell who is better positioned to advance tax provisions. "So that would be my desire, but, again, I’m not leading on that right now, but Sen. Cantwell has been working her charm."